WARNING: This article assumes that you have seen all eight seasons of 24, except for the last two episodes of season eight. If you haven’t, best turn back now. I WILL NOT TELL YOU AGAIN! TURN BACK NOW! I’m going to count backwards from three, and then I will kill you… sorry, got carried away there.
And now, the end is near… I have a three point plan which underpins my movie-going habits. Those are in order, so I must confess I’m a blockbuster whore. And that’s why my favourite TV series of the last 10 years is the closest that the small screen has ever come to producing a genuine big screen action blockbuster. Yes, it’s 24, and in the UK tonight it all comes to an end, on the small screen at least, but part of the reason it’s ending is so that it can make the jump to the big screen, no doubt shooting, torturing and shouting as it goes.
And what we’ve been left with is a legacy of eight days in the life of Jack Bauer. Over the course of nine years, or fifteen in the chronology of the show, Jack has been killed twice, stabbed, shot at, almost fatally irradiated, tortured by the Chinese for two years, tortured (sometimes naked) by someone else nearly every season, has had to kill or permit the death of several colleagues, tortured his brother, allowed his father to get blown up, seen his wife killed, his life partner practically lobotomised and his girlfriend gunned down by a sniper. Not forgetting that in that fifteen years, America has been through seven different presidents, of varying moral substance. And through it all, he’s retained the same unflinching commitment to truth, justice, the American way and to inflicting as much pain and suffering as possible in the process. What a guy.
So, as the curtain is about to fall on those small screen adventures (although my small screen is about 40% bigger than it was when I saw the first episode all those years ago), my hopes are high as the first movie prepares to go into production. But if this is to work, hopefully as much as possible of the following will be followed.
1. Kiefer Sutherland IS Jack Bauer
Unbelievably, the writers did toy with the idea of killing off Jack midway through the final season. While that might have been a reasonable idea early in the series’ run, when the real time concept was what defined 24, it’s Jack, and in turn Kiefer, that have defined the series the longer it’s gone on. So now, when the time comes to kill Jack, the concept should die with it, at least until some hard for ideas TV exec reboots it in 20 years with a comedy robot sidekick.
2. Elisha Cuthbert IS in unlikely mortal peril
Jack works at his best when the stakes are personal, and one of the most regular events in his life is daughter Kim getting herself into trouble. Although by season 7 she was quite good at getting out of it, she’s one of the few to have survived the series and could give an instant route into the action while keeping exposition to a minimum. Just please, no cougars…
3. Glenn Morshower IS the back-up Jack, Agent Aaron Pierce
They didn’t find a way to work him into season 8, and with the rumoured European setting it may prove even harder, but if one person has proved just as dependable (while being less likely to rip out your toenails to get you to talk), it’s Secret Service Agent Aaron Pierce. Just a background character to start with, he’s also clocked up an impressive list of achievements, not least nailing the ex-Mrs Logan, it would seem. If this was a Bond movie, he’d be conveniently on holiday, just where Jack was about to uncover the latest terrorist threat.
4. Events occur in real time (for 42 minutes an hour, at least)
The original concept was the real time conceit. As much as I would love a 24 hour movie (and as I would be one of the few well trained enough to survive 24 hours in the cinema), I accept that this has to be a 2 hour endeavour. However, while there must be certain times cut out, it’s the sense of urgency that the real time has provided that mustn’t be lost in the transition to the big screen.
5. The rebel with a cause
Jack’s a man on a mission – usually that mission is to stop some form of thing exploding, or being fired into the air before exploding, or to take down someone important, probably before they explode. Whatever the mission, he’s the ultimate embodiment of putting the pursuit of justice before personal gain (unless, as in season eight, he can combine the two with a bit of revenge for himself). But the more moral the mission, the more we’ll believe Jack’s involved in it.
6. The threat level must be extremely… extreme
Season one’s main mission was to protect a senator, but since then a mix of presidential threats and increasingly large things about to explode have ramped up the risk, and World War III has been narrowly averted more than once. The country hopping potential of the movie allows for a truly global threat to be offered up, so let’s hope the threat justifies the means.
7. But avoid nuclear weapons
Jack speaks several languages, including fluent German and Russian, and even some Serbian and Spanish. Why, then, can he not pronounce the word nuclear correctly? I think we’ve seen enough “nukular” weapons in the series – time for something a little different to upset Jack’s day.
8. Jack should also be at his most extreme
Here’s a man who doesn’t know when to say no. Cutting off someone’s head with a hacksaw just to prove they’re dead? Check. Ripping out a captor’s jugular with your teeth? Check. Gutting your lover’s killer just to get a SIM card back? Check. Jack allows us to go to all the dark places at the back of our mind that we don’t like to talk about, and as long as it’s not made into a violence fetish, we want to see just where, if at all, Jack will draw the line.
9. If it is to be Europe, show us the sights
Seasons seven and eight benefitted enormously from the change of scenery, Washington and New York freshening things up no end, not to mention the African excursion in Redemption. (Actually, let’s not mention that. It wasn’t all that great.) So a European vacation has huge potential, and should be maximised wherever possible, ideally throwing in an action set piece or two on the landmarks.
10. Then show us a car chase or two, or maybe something mid-air
There’ve been a few notable car-related scrapes over the series, but normally driving the wrong-way down an on-ramp of the freeway is as much as TV budgets will allow for. And lest we forget, Jack can fly planes and helicopters, so the chase action doesn’t need to be limted to ground level. A chase down the Champs-Élysées, followed by a helicopter through the Eiffel Tower, perhaps?
11. And a massive gun battle
One thing the TV series does do well is its gunplay, but now it’s time to really ramp things up and take advantage of the wider aspect ratio. Michael Mann showed how to do it in heat, so that’s a pretty high bar to aim for. Aim high, Jack. (And I don’t mean through the sniper sight, either.)
12. And a big punch-up
The holy trinity of any action movie: cars, guns, and fist-fights. There have also been some very memorable punch-ups, even as far back as season two when Jack got into an extended battle with a goon in the finale. So at some point, Jack needs to go mano a mano with someone else, maybe a ninja (he has beaten the crap out of pretty much everyone else at some point – or maybe that should wait for the Japanese sequel).
13. Just because Jack’s serious, doesn’t mean everyone else has to be
Remember George Mason? The CTU boss from the first two seasons, whose line in hard sarcasm gave a good sense of tone and balance to proceedings. Then he got killed off. Eventually Chloe filled that role (both of the sarcasm and, eventually, the CTU boss), but Jack needs lighter characters to give balance to his darkness. (If she makes it through the finale, then Chloe in the movie is a must – Mary Lynn Rajskub has been the second best thing behind Kiefer Sutherland about the latter seasons, and as well as acting as Jack’s moral compass and accomplice tends to get all the best lines.)
14. We aren’t supposed to talk about the bloody mole
After a few seasons, it became a surprise when someone in CTU wasn’t a mole / double agent / triple agent / figment of Jack’s imagination / killer cyborg from the future (okay, I made the last two up, but maybe…). We need double crossings, betrayal and a sense that only Jack can be trusted, everyone else we’re not so sure, just to keep us on our toes.
15. The Jack Sack TM – a modern technological marvel
Taking on an almost TARDIS-like quality to contain whatever convenient gadget or weapon Jack needs for a particular situation, the Jack Sack is as much a part of the character as the violence and the need to repeat every important point at least once with more shouting to make sure people get it, like a drunken English tourist lost on the back streets of Marbella. In season eight, this took on epic proportions, with Jack pulling out a whole suit of armour to take out Charles Logan’s motorcade – if there’s not at least a jet pack in there for the movie, something’s probably gone wrong.
16. Keep the clock ticking…
The iconic clock is as much a part of the 24 template as anything else (and almost as unpredictable). But if it’s ain’t got the clock, it ain’t going to rock. (Hey, that rhymes – maybe they could do the whole movie like that, like Bauer meets Dr. Seuss? No, getting carried away now. Focus. I SAID FOCUS!)
17. …and the screen splitting
Like a Brian De Palma tribute, the series has always made the most of the constantly moving characters and action, using the split screens to best effect to show off the different streams going on simultaneously. The apotheosis of this concept came at the end of a season five episode, when rather than the normal process of a split screen, followed by the cliff-hanger scene, the episode simply ended with an eight way split screen, to show quite how many threads the show was juggling. Just think how many different screens you could get on a cinema screen!?!
18. The director has to be someone who can handle the action, and keep it tight
Doesn’t have to be a big name, but it should ideally be someone with a proven track record, and who can manage the action on the big screen. The widescreen format (and since the show has been airing for the large part in the TV widescreen ratio, the movie has to go at least 2.35:1, if not wider) allows for a greater sense of scope, but also has to be managed properly, and needs someone who can keep the rhythms of the show going, if not improving on them. I’m thinking of someone like Tony Scott (but not really Tony Scott).
19. Don’t upset the rhythm
Two other crucial aspects – the editing and the music – have made the series audio-visual qualities stand above its contemporaries. So it needs a good editor to help keep that rhythm as tight as possible. And one of the unsung heroes of the series has been Sean Callery, whose music has been incredibly varied, throwing in almost every possible style short of mariachi bands, but all the while maintaining the tension and gripping like a vice at just the right times. Movie music has to be different (and if you don’t believe me, go watch Star Trek: Generations and then we’ll talk), and Sean’s been mainly a TV guy, but his track record speaks for itself.
20. Don’t feel the need to emulate the other JB
If there was a template for what a good 24 movie should be, then it’s been stolen by covert operatives, who gave it to Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass and allowed them to make the Bourne movies. While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, 24 has developed enough strengths of its own that it should stand on them, but also learn the lessons of how they took as much money as they did. (Nearly $950 million dollars at the worldwide box office, in case you were wondering.)
21. Or the other JB, for that matter (with maybe one exception)
The granddaddy of the secret agent movie genre is Bond. James Bond. A series that’s reinvented itself time and time again to adapt to changing situations, 24 can also learn from this in terms of measuring the times, but again shouldn’t feel constrained by expectation.
The one thing where Jack Bauer is more James Bond than Jason Bourne is in his love of the ladies. After Teri died, Jack had Kate Warner, Audrey Raines and Renée Walker, all strong women who were not exactly hard on the eye. A love interest for Jack, especially if she comes with added redemption or angst, can’t be a bad thing.
22. Find a suitable nemesis
Over the course of eight seasons, Jack has taken down Dennis Hopper, the Jigsaw killer from the Saw movies, The Mummy, Robocop and Farmer Hoggett from Babe, among countless others, and often two or three at a time. We don’t need some faceless, nameless Eurotrash here – anyone got Christoph Waltz or Alan Rickman on speed dial?
23. Wind him up, and let him go
Jack Bauer is an unstoppable force of nature – a one man killing machine that eats Chuck Norris for breakfast and uses the leftovers to set traps for his enemies. The series has always been at its best when it’s been Jack against the world, and those occasions have thankfully been frequent. The movie doesn’t need to be any different, but maybe CTU should be hooking up with Interpol, or some other worldwide agency (make one up if there isn’t one in real life that works), to be Jack’s authority counterpoint.
24. And don’t worry about jumping the shark
There have been too many ridiculous plot developments to count over the years. So I won’t try. If we’re being honest, 24 jumped the shark in season 1, when Teri developed amnesia for just long enough to keep the plot interesting. Then over the course of the following seasons, it pounded the shark to a bloody pulp, tortured it for the whereabouts of nukular weapons and finally strapped it to an EMP and threw it off a tall building. So the movie will struggle to come up with plot developments more ridiculous.
Because 24 is like an airport novel writ large in terms of plotting. It’s a combination that just shouldn’t work – ludicrous plotting and conspiracy theories, coupled with geek gadget heaven, some incredibly strong acting, not least from Kiefer, whose career this has remade, and high quality production values. But the twists and turns are as much a part of the charm as everything else. So whatever you’ve got, bring it on.
25. And finally, whatever you do, come back soon, Jack. We’re going to miss you.